Toddler sh*t just got real 

Just over a year ago I was back in my old job, every day my calendar was rammed from 8 til 6:30. I would spend my days running round, fixing issues, managing a large team, juggling politics, it was a full on job…what I’d give for one day back there now – for a goddamn break! 

Now on a normal day, I have maybe one thing to do and the rest is flexible. Today I had four things to do and I swear to GOD it was more stressful than the time all our servers went down and it was (kind of) my fault. 

All because I had a toddler (demon) to take round with me. Today she was so bad that I actually looked up whether there was a full moon. 

First we went to the supermarket where she so badly didn’t want to hold my hand that she lay on the floor in the middle of the aisle (she has never seen another child do this. Is this a trick these beasts are born with?) Then she gets up and throws some bananas on the floor. Then she turns and runs so fast out of the front door that I have to throw the basket down and run full speed after her. 
Next we went to a friend’s for coffee. First she threw the dolls on the floor, then she banged a coaster repeatedly on the polished table. She ate Mr potato head’s eyes for ten minutes and then had a total meltdown because I wouldn’t let her eat the knob of the radiator. We left. 
She napped which I thought might solve the problem. I deftly got food past her flailing arms and turning head into her mouth and we set out again. 
We went for a meeting at the kitchen showroom where she ignored the box of toys and instead tried repeatedly to run out of the automatic doors into the car park. Thwarted, she lay on the floor in the middle of the showroom. I got her onto my knee using cheese and herb puffs which she mashed into my knees and the desk. She spent the remainder of the time belligerently kicking the desk and writhing to get down, like something possessed. I was answering the consultant’s questions as quickly as possible whilst trying to contain my daughter’s thrashing limbs but the woman just kept stopping and gaping at me with undisguised horror. 
Later, registering at the doctors, she did a quick scan of the room, saw the bin marked “clinical waste” and headed straight for it. How? Just HOW did she know that was the most disgusting thing in there? Someone please tell me. Back and forward we went, her running off towards the box of sharps covered in strangers’ blood, me bringing her back to the chair. 
I ended up giving her my phone out of sheer desperation to listen to that crack song from Frozen (I swear to God it contains subliminal messaging to make kids want Frozen merch), I got my phone back to see she’d somehow emailed a You Tube link to a Taylor Swift video to a random guy I worked with for about a week 9 years ago. 
We finally got home, and after intermittently splashing all the water out of the tub and trying to drink/inhale the water and choking dramatically, I got her into bed. 
My husband gets home and I mention that I’ve spoken to the nursery about her start date. 3 days a week, starting in a fortnight.
He says “but you don’t have a contracting job yet” 
I’ll let you guess my response. 

Happy Valentine’s Day

Remember what Valentine’s Day used to be like? Wake up to a breakfast cooked just the way I liked it, a romantic card, thoughtful present and a bit of alone time. This year it’s a Saturday, there were 2 games of rugby on, we’d have headed to the pub to watch them, end the session sozzled, going in search of food and then more booze and dancing.
Yeah, well. Our second Valentine’s Day with the baby involved a trip round a farm in the rain, then off to warm up in a cafe, covered in mud and stinking of pig s*** to bolt down something hot and carby that’s shareable with a toddler. Back to my family’s house where she proceeded to try and play with everything she’s not supposed to, bury her dribble covered face in their cream sofa which cost more than our car, climb the stairs, scream, try to knock over the TV and cause me to have a nervous breakdown and eat a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates. Then she cried herself to sleep leaving me and hubs alone at last.
It’s 19:40 and the clock is ticking til I can drag my carcass to bed.
But at least I won’t have a hangover tomorrow.

“A dog licked my baby’s mouth” and other horrible stories

Yesterday I met up with a friend who is basically Mary Poppins mixed with Supernanny. And she reminded me what a lazy, crap mum I am.

“The jelly looked fun!” She said hopefully, referring to the photo I sent her after the last time we met. I’d felt so guilty that I hadn’t done a single thing on her list of “fun activities to do with kids” that I immediately picked the least messy sounding one and did it the next day.
Except that it was messy. So very messy and…just so messy. I’d selected sugar free jelly in the hope that it would be less sticky but alas it was as sticky as a MOFO and went All. Over. Everything.

Later that evening as I scraped jelly out of the crevasses of the high chair, off the walls and from under the fridge (how the hell?!) I thought “maybe I’ll try the baking idea tomorrow…or actually maybe I’ll do the painting instead…”. I didn’t do either and I’m still finding that damn jelly places. I had to get the mop out. I dislike housework.

Instead, the next day we drew on the fridge in whiteboard markers for, like, ten seconds. And that’s when I realised it, she’s 1 year old – she doesn’t give a sh*t about drawing on the fridge. And she didn’t particularly like the jelly. I put it down in front of her and she touched it tentatively with one finger and then sat back and looked at me like “er Mum are you sure about this? You’re usually pretty up tight about me throwing sh*t all over the place”. I just smiled and said “dig in” but she knew, and I knew. This was going to be no fun really. It’s like when your husband says “no, no honestly it’s fine, we can watch Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous” and you know that he’d prefer to be watching something with a lot more killing and a lot less cabaret, so you spend the whole film thinking “I bet he’s hating this” instead of chuckling at the whimsical banter and marvelling at Sandra Bullock’s amazing bone structure.

Yesterday my Mary Poppins friend asked if I’d been to any music classes yet. I said “no but I’ve got a list of them off a new friend I made!” (I’d ticked “make a new friend” off my list that week and it was so big that I hadn’t bothered doing any more tasks after that). Then she asked if I’d been to the library for stories yet. I said “er, no”. “But it’s at the end of your road!”.

“Ok, have you been swimming?”. I hung my head. “No”. I was ashamed.

On the way home I bumped into my fourth local friend and we had a 5 minute chat and arranged a coffee date. That’s when I realised the reason I haven’t been to any activities alone yet. I’m a follower. I’m a total follower. I do things people suggest but I rarely suggest anything myself. This is why I’ve been more concerned with making new friends in my new town – so they can suggest things to do and I can agree to do them. That is how it must be.

Later that evening whilst I was putting on a puppet show with a zebra and a lion (the zebra explaining to the lion why he shouldn’t be eaten) amid peels of laughter from the baby, I decided 2 things. 1 If neither of us enjoys messy play, then there’s no need to force ourselves into it just because other mums are doing it. We’re more into physical play. We run after each other, play hide and seek, catch, fetch and go out walking. We splash in the bath until 50% of the water is on the floor. This is fine, in fact it’s my favourite part of the day. We like water. Water isn’t sticky.
We dance in front of the mirror to my “running” (LOL!!) playlist, she loves nothing more than admiring her little reflection bopping away, complete with range of hilarious facial expressions. We have the same taste in music, she crawls over to the iPod dock and flicks past the rubbish ones herself. We play “feed the scary monster” at the baby gate every day (rice cakes, me crawling up the stairs to the gate, her laughing hysterically and feeding me pieces of soggy rice cake).

The second thing I decided was that I’m the same type of mum as I am type of person and I think my daughter likes our little bubble the way it is. Let me explain. I don’t have birthday parties and I hate being the hostess. That’s why I don’t suggest things and why I married the world’s most popular, and sociable man and the funnest person I know – so he can deal with that stuff for both of us.
I have 4 friends-with-kids here after 3 and a half months. If I make a new friend every month then I’ll go to plenty of things (but only if they suggest it, there’s no use pretending). In between dates we’ll be happy with our own mirror dancing, monster feeding, chasing each other round the dining table brand of fun.

And a final thing. Because we are like two little peas in our own pod, when deciding if my daughter would like to do something in future, I’m just going to think “would I like to do it?”. An example from today is that a lady asked if my daughter would like to stroke her small, reasonably cute dog. “He’s very good with kids, he never bites” she said. So I lead my daughter over, she looks at me like “mum? What the hell?” And just stares from me to the dog and back in disgust. Then in one quick motion the thing jumps up, puts its paws on her shoulders and LICKS HER ON THE MOUTH. My daughter and I both stumble back in utter revulsion, me saying “eeeeeewwwwww def con 3! pass the baby wipes” at the same time the dog owner says “aaaawwwwww he’s giving you a kiss!”.
I looked at my daughter for the final verdict. She started crying. Agreed. I thought lets go home and hand sanitiser your face.

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See the sleeping bunnies…

…sleeping til it’s noon,
shall we look at their happy parents’ smiles?
Oh they’re happy,
why is that?
Because their babies sleeeeeeeeeep.

This is how our new version goes anyway. Similarly they words in James’ baby books frequently become “Oh look, here’s a happy cow, she’s happy because she was allowed to sleep. And here is a happy horse, he’s so happy because his children slept all night. What lovely children they are.” You never know, it might work.

One night in the doldrums, one night of bliss

Angry, shaking and nearly in tears I grabbed my dressing gown and phone and headed downstairs to spend the night on the sofa. I couldn’t bear to stay in the same bed. It was too much, enough was enough. That was the night before last and the person I was escaping from was small, wild haired and very uncute right at that moment. Let me tell you that “Booooob” “Mum-mum” “Boob” followed by pinching, scrabbling and the odd foot in the belly are not in the gentleman’s guide to persuading your fellows to come around to your point of view. Equally, they are not in the mum&baby guide to maintaining an harmonious family life when your parents are working long days and need to sleep.

So there I was, downstairs and unhappy. Kicked out of my own bed by my darling offspring. I spent most of the following day unhappy, dreading going home because I’d be straight back into the no-sleep torture chamber. Then it came to me…I could choose to sleep in a different room from the start. My other half could look after our sleep thief and I could escape.

Queue that evening, I unfurled the sofa bed hopped on in. Aaaaaaahhhhh. It was like I’d gone on a dream holiday. Ok the accommodation was a dive (walls unfinished, no curtains, paint tins on the floor) but to me it was heaven. I didn’t care that the full moon was beaming through so brightly that it woke me up several times during the night, because they were natural wakings. I think if I count on my fingers and toes the number of times I’ve woken up naturally in the past 15 months I’d have plenty of digits left.

And where am I tonight you ask? Back with my husband and baby because I missed them so much? Don’t be silly. I’m in the other room.

Zombie parents

As readers of this blog will know, I like to moan a lot about how tired I am.  There’s no getting away from it, I am tired all the time and can go to sleep at any moment.  This is largely because my daughter has started to get up really early, at 5am every day.  Now, I know that some of you will be reading this and thinking “Ha! That’s nothing! 5am sounds like a dream”.  And you are absolutely right.  That my daughter affords me at least 6 or 7 hours of sleep per night is wonderful.  I am, nevertheless, still tired and have been since about September 2013.

This does not, however, mean that other people aren’t more tired than me, and I’ve noticed a certain amount of playful competition going on with other parents in that regard.  Enter Mr. “Shit I’m going to miss my train” (see previous post), who was remarkably two minutes early for nursery today, as was I.  Mr. Smile (a friend who I like very much, and whose daughter goes to the same nursery) says hello and asks how I am.  “Tired.  Up at 5.30 again” was as much as I could muster (I am known for my plain speaking).  Mr. Smile boldy counters by telling me that his daughter woke them up at 7.30am.  That was just too much for Mr SIGTMMT who entered the conversation by saying “11!!!! 1!!!! 3!!!! 5!!!!”.  It took me a few moments to register that he wasn’t just shouting out sequential numbers but was talking about when his son, who is only a month or two younger than my child and Mr. Smiley’s child, woke him and his wife up last night.  Poor Mr and Mrs SIGTMMT.

The amusing thing about this was the brief conversation which ensued, since it appeared that Mr and Mrs SIGTMMT argued at every waking-point about who should get up and “sort him out”.  That had us all nodding in sage agreement, since we’ve all had morning arguments about who has the busiest day ahead, who did it last time, who the baby wants etc.  You both fight hard for your corner.  You both press your case.  You both don’t feel like being nice at 3am (or 5am in our case). But the baby is still crying, so one of you capitulates and then has amunition for the rest of the day – “who’s making dinner”? (not me, I got up at 3am); “who’s turn is it to do the bins”? (not me, I got up at 3am); “can I put the sport on”? (no, I got up at 3am) and so on and so forth.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins the war.  But perhaps I’m only saying that because it was, today, my husband who capitulated.  And because the truth of the matter is that we are fortunate to have a little girl who has slept through since she was about 4 months old (sorry sorry sorry but it is true).  So while it is true that I am always tired, I really need to applaud and salute those parents who get through the day having got up at ridiculous o’clock however many times with a baby who, despite being amazing, the centre of their world and otherwise a joy, is a little sleep depriving s*d at 3 in the morning.

 

Power suits and quadruple espressos…

…move aside. Ambitious women have a new ally: other women. I don’t mean the ones who snipe behind your back or make you feel bad for having the wrong shoes. I mean the ones who’ve become fairly senior and are now making damn sure that there’s not only a ladder for us lot to climb, but they’re pouring concrete and building a solid staircase.

Take my manager (well she’s sort of my manager, sort of not, I can’t get the hang of our ridiculous management structure) she’s currently spearheading a new programme to address the needs of mums returning to work after maternity leave. She sees that we have a million and one things to cope with, and that it’s not easy and that we need support.

You might think “Ah whatever, everyone’s got something to deal with” or “This is positive discrimination gone too far”…maybe even “This is simple proof that there is no place for women in any decent workforce, oh Hilda dear my shirts need starching, and would it kill you to have my dinner ready at 6:15 rather than 6:25???” To be honest many of my colleagues seem slightly bewildered that anything in my life has changed at all. I think they see it a bit like getting a lodger. Ok your junk room has to turn into a bedroom and you give them a shelf in the fridge, but after that they just do their own thing. Oh how wrong they are.

The fact is that apart from cataclysmic (and hopefully rare) events like plagues, war and famine, or huge serious health problems, raising a baby is the only thing that will change your life this drastically. And like all things of this enormity, no one will understand unless they’ve been there themselves. I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s true. And given that truth, women are other women’s greatest ally.

Only another mum would understand when you say that going to the toilet when you like and on your own is exciting. Only they would laugh knowingly when you say you’re sooooo excited to be wearing a normal bra. And only they would know just how hard it is turning your mind one second to a technical analysis and the next to making sure you sing Wind The Bobbin Up just right with all the correct actions.

I’m lucky and excited to have a manager who is pushing to get us working mums the support we need. Now it behoves the rest of us to keep up the momentum and pull each other up as we go.

And, I might add, the same is true for mums who have their kids to look after full time.

Germs, snot and Dallas

Coughs and sneezes spread diseases.  That was always the message when I was little.  I have always prided myself on having a robust immune system, and have always been irrationally annoyed by people who always seem to be ill or who keep boxes of tissues in their living room. As it turns out my immune system is about as strong as the Greek economy, and our household is apparently single-handedly keeping Kleenex afloat.

By the time my daughter was 10 months old she had suffered from about 4 high fevers, chicken pox, German measles and hand foot and mouth disease, this in addition to about 100 colds and 3 or 4 unexplained rashes. She’s no weakling and runs around happily spreading her germs around the house when she is poorly, while I sit on the settee coughing and spluttering and bemoaning the fact that I will have to take more time off work to look after her.  The question at the back of mind- scratch that- constantly on my lips is “where the hell did she catch it”. The inevitable response is “nursery”, but actually  that isn’t always the case. None of her little friends seem to be ill at the same time as her, and when they fall ill she doesn’t. It’s so strange. Meanwhile, when I get ill the perpetrator is always easily identifiable as the idiot who stumbles into work coughing his guts up in order to try and present the right image to the boss (n.b. – if you work for me I am most definitely not impressed by your disgusting germs).

Another thing that I find really odd is that despite her constant snotty nose her philtrum (the bit between her nose and top lip) is never red. When I get a cold and wipe my nose it goes raw, followed afterwards by an attractive dry patch as my skin tries to recover. Perhaps I am an aggressive self-wiper but despite wiping her nose constantly it never goes red. And her energy is something to behold. When I am ill (not that I am allowed to be ill anymore) I need things. I need the settee. I need a duvet. I need Dallas. I need soup. When Hannah is ill she needs things too. She needs her trampoline. She needs more banana. She needs to pick up every bloody thing on the table. She needs to run around hiding everything that used to be on said table.

In short it turns out that I am not, in fact, robust at all. I have allowed colds and diseases to master me. I even welcome them sometimes as I have an excuse- nay a reason- to rest. Hannah, meanwhile, continues on her merry way refusing to be beaten by influenza and the like. I suppose there is a lesson there for me, but for now I will return to my comfy chair and JR.

How to survive work when your baby doesn’t sleep

1. Arrive early. This will give you a chance to come to before everyone else arrives.

2. Have a sturdy breakfast. You need fuel.

3. When having a conversation, technical meeting, chat over coffee, try to make sure your expression is similar to the expressions of other people involved. It’s easy to forget what your face is doing, and you don’t want to be the one smiling when they’re talking about sacking people.

4. Don’t babble. If you find yourself babbling, right yourself by saying a couple of big words. It’ll get you back on track.

5. Other parents are your allies (unless they have those magical babies who slept through from 3 months…in which case avoid at all costs).

6. Get up. Take a walk around. If you need to, carry some paperwork to make you look busy. Exercise will wake you up, if only temporarily.

7. Trust your brain to come up with the goods when it needs to.

8. Treat yourself. If it’s biscuits, listening to some music, or checking your phone now and then, do it. You need to be nice to you because this is hard.

9. Make the most of the good bits, like the freedom to have lunch when you like and to eat it all yourself without being pestered by someone small and squidgy.

10. Don’t worry about how you look. You probably look better than you think you do.

The rules of the nursery

I have always been strangely reassured by the way that human beings form themselves into groups, that those groups have rules and that the rules are, generally, observed. That is why, for example, we get annoyed when someone pushes in front of you when you queue, and why we bother to have laws. We all need to know how we fit in to the system.

What I find surprising is the way that applies to really small situations, and to babies and toddlers. I first became aware of this when I started to drop my daughter off at nursery. Now, the nursery drop is very tense. By and large our children are at nursery because we have to be at work, and so it’s essential to get the drop-off procedure right. It’s a fine art which involves knowing the rules about who arrives when, as this helps us to get to the next place on time. We dash down the road, rushing past Mr Stressed-with-2-kids at 7.56 who falls in behind us. Mr “Shit I’m going to miss my train” nearly collides with us at 7.58. The Other Hannah and her mother are already on the top step waiting for the door to open. Mrs. “Casual Approach” saunters down the road and gets in everyone’s way as she mucks about with her pram (clearly doesn’t have to catch a train). Muttering and swearing ensures. Mr “Shit I’m going to miss my train” is starting to go purple. It’s now 7.59 and the tension in the air is palpable. Door opens. Bundle as the children go in through the narrow corridor. I’m holding Hannah, Craig unbuttons coat as I fumble for her shoes with my remaining hand. Mr. “Shit I’m going to miss my train” hands over his child, who was derobed before we got in the door. Bag in box, coat on peg, kisses goodbye, GO GO GO. Until Bruno’s mother arrives and squishing of bodies in the corridor as we push past each other ensues. Same every day – except yesterday when Mr “Shit I’m going to miss my train” actually passed his son to me to deal with and hand over because he had parked in the middle of the road out of sheer terror of actually missing his train. It’s mild panic every day but also a comfort knowing who is going to turn up when; what order we walk in to the room; whether we should talk to the other parents (only before the door is open, not when we are in the corridor itself as this just wastes train time) etc.

On the return everyone is much more chilled. I usually do the pick up and it’s a case of wander in, chat to the nursery assistants, say hello to the other children, faff about with the coat etc…. and the other parents are the same. It’s cool, the day is coming to an end, we are going to look after our child for an hour or two before bed time and it’s going to be lovely. Work is over for the day, who cares? Let’s just chat and relax.

The babies, however, have their own protocols to observe as follows:
1. Do not interact with anyone but Mummy and/or Daddy until you have been dispatched to the assistant.
2. Run away to find breakfast, no longer caring whether your parent is there.
3. Do not, at any point, touch the gate. The gate belongs to Freddy and Billy. They guard it, you do not. Only the assistants are allowed to touch the gate instead of you. Do not touch the gate, do not approach the gate, do not even look at the gate.
4. Do not interact with a nursery assistant who has already been claimed by another child.
5. Do not drop your food or cease to pay attention to it, even for a second. If you do it will be forfeited to Hannah or Bruno who will consume it as punishment.
6. Get out of the way of all other children when Mummy or Daddy arrives, otherwise you WILL get hurt.
7. Make sure you cry if any adult who isn’t an assistant speaks to you. They need to know that they are not your parent and that you are not interested in them being nice to you.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall and see what other rules they have in place for organising their days. Never forget, they rule the roost. You might like to think you are in charge, but if you ever really start to believe that just remember who is preparing to wake who up in the middle of the night, and who is laughing and giggling at you as you madly do the drop off in the morning…. they are laughing AT you, not WITH you.

These are just some of the nursery rules